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A Shaggy Soul Story: How not to Read the Wax Tablet Model in Plato's Theaetetus

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Abstract:

This paper sets out to re-examine the famous Wax Tablet model in Plato's Theaetetus, in particular the section of it which appeals to the quality of individual souls' wax as an explanation of why some are more liable to make mistakes than others (194c-195a). This section has often been regarded as an ornamental flourish or a humorous appendage to the model's main explanatory business. Yet in their own appropriations both Aristotle and Locke treat the notion of variable wax quality as an important part of the model's utility in dealing with mistake. What, then, is its status for Plato? I shall argue that the section on variable wax quality is there to suggest to the reader a tempting way of misinterpreting the model. This will highlight the distinctive character of the model in its original version, and provide an unusual example of a philosopher describing how not to read one of his own doctrines.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2004

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